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National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

National Read Across America Day Ideas for an Alice in Wonderland Mad Tea Party

“Dear dear, how queer everything is today. And yesterday things went on just as usual!”

mad tea party
Celebrate reading with an Alice-inspired party | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Have you ever had a Mad Tea Party? To do so, one has to be warned, is to abdicate any sense of rules or decorum. It is to embrace nonsense as the guiding principle: pure, anarchic nonsense of the kind that leads to sloshed tea cups and wild, wordy toasts, circumlocutions that never quite make a circle. It’s bonkers, of course, and you’ll be bonkers for joining in. But the best people are.

The worlds created by Lewis Carroll in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Alice Through the Looking Glass are celebrations of many things. They’re mathematical metaphors. They’re lovely and adventurous excursions into the gleeful jungles of language. Most of all, they’re an ode to imagination, wonder, and the persistent logic of children in a world that grownups make upside down and absurd with rules and customs. It’s why Alice, sweet and wonderful, stubborn and brave Alice, has persisted for over a hundred years. And it’s why we celebrate her, and Carroll, on National Read Across America Day.

Today, March 2nd, the National Education Association is proud to celebrate Read Across America Day, when educators, parents, librarians—anyone who loves the gift of books—shares that magic with children. One of the authors celebrated this year is Lewis Carroll, which is why we think that it’s the perfect time to have an Alice in Wonderland-themed party. Send out fanciful Wonderland-themed invitations to friends, and make sure the children are there. Have your amazing Alice in Wonderland-inspired bookmarks from Elfster for party favors. And, don’t be late, for the Duchess will be savage.

EAT ME and DRINK ME: Refreshments for the Party

“First, however, she waited for a few minutes to see if she was going to shrink any farther. She felt a little nervous about this. ‘For it might end, you know,’ said Alice to herself, ‘in my going out altogether. I wonder what I should be like then?’ And she tried to fancy what the flame of a candle looks like after the candle is blown out, for she could not remember ever having seen such a thing.”

an alice mug
Let your drink slosh about | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArtsyPumpkin

The first thing you’ll need, of course, is tea. You can’t have a Mad Tea Party without it. At the very least, you’ll want to have some unexpectedly delightful teacups (preferably with a saucer to catch the sloshings). Not every kid likes tea, though, and depending on the ages of your party guests you might not want to have hot liquids, but you can fill a teapot with anything. Just remember that if you’re in the spirit of things, it’ll get messy. After all, they’ll be toasting with the Mad Hatter, the March Hare, and the Dormouse.

For nibbles to eat, they mostly had cakes and crackers, and little English sweet things. You might not be able to get the exact kind, so cupcakes and cookies will do. Make sure, though, that you have EAT ME signs and DRINK ME tags on all the sweets and beverages.

If you’re having a party just for adults, consider serving Mock Turtle Soup. It’s an English dish that was cheaper than actual turtle soup, using sirloin, eggs, chicken broth, and a lot of seasoning. It’s pretty delicious, and simple to make. It’s themed, of course, because Alice meets an actual Mock Turtle, who tries to regale her with his tale of woe, although he’s constantly interrupted by a Griffin, much to sweet Alice’s intemperate annoyance.

You might feel bad about eating Mock Turtle Soup, but Alice herself said that she’s seen it “at Dinn…,” to which the Turtle responds that he doesn’t know where Dinn may be. All the better, perhaps.

Playtime for the Imagination: Lunatic Croquet and the Lobster Quadrille

“The chief difficulty Alice found at first was in managing her flamingo.”

With all the madness and the fun (and the tea and cupcakes), the kids at the party should be pretty revved up. Here are a few activities for them:

Lunatic Croquet

This is probably the most famous scene in the book: the game of croquet with the Queen of Hearts. The mallets are flamingos and the balls are hedgehogs and the arches are the Queen’s playing cards, and they all scramble around to help the demented and distorted old head-chopper win the game. Alice thinks this is dreadfully unfair, but the lawless nature of it makes it perfect for kids.

lunatic croquet
Don’t use actual flamingos and hedgehogs | Image courtesy Etsy seller TinyRed

Get a good children’s deluxe croquet set, set it up in the yard, and let them go nuts (employing proper mallet safety, of course). There doesn’t need to be any rules. They should take delight in the thwacking. There are just too many rules everywhere for kids. They can’t go here and they shouldn’t see this and they certainly can’t watch that. Before they become adults, with our imaginations limited by customs and shoved into these costumes of grown-ups, let them play.

Lobster Quadrille

If that’s not enough, maybe it’s time to dance the Lobster Quadrille. That’s a dance the Mock Turtle teaches Alice, and it involves throwing lobsters in the sea, doing somersaults, and running around. There are also snails involved. You’re not really going to be able to do it. And that’s ok. The whole point is for the kids to just…join the dance. Have them make it up.

Let each kid create a short dance to teach to the other kids. It could be to the tune of the Lobster Quadrille (the Franz Ferdinand version or the classic one), or whatever tune pops into their wild and unfettered heads when you read them the lyrics.

“Will you walk a little faster,” said the whiting to the snail

“There’s a porpoise close behind us, and he’s treading on my tail”

See how eagerly the lobsters and the turtles all advance

They are waiting on the shingle- will you come and join the dance

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Will you, won’t you, will you, won’t you, will you come and join the dance?

Reading Keeps Childhood Alive

“A cat may look at a king,” Alice said. “I read that in a book somewhere, but I don’t remember where.”

Will you, won’t you? Won’t you join? That’s what National Read Across America Day is all about. It’s about having kids join a magical club, one where the only limit is imagination, and in the mind of a beautiful genius like Lewis Carroll, that means there are no limitations.

vintage lewis carroll book
Vintage Carroll | Image courtesy Etsy seller PrettyHappyVintage

So make sure that you have everyone gather round, and read from the book. Maybe the kids have seen the movies. Maybe even in your head, the ideas are dominated by the Tim Burton renditions or, more likely, the classic cartoon. And that’s fine. Those are both wonderful.

But something magical happens when you start reading, and it happens to young and old alike. His words, and her thoughts and feelings, create their own images in your head. You see Alice as every child, as your children, or as someone close to you. Or maybe you reach back and put your own childhood in there. Because that’s what it is. Alice is who we are when we allow ourselves to be children, and she’s who children are at their most ferociously curious, when asking why is less a question than a driving need. It’s a time when exploring the next room means finding the entire universe. Alice chased a rabbit, and found a new world. Every day should be like that for children.

Reading allows them to do that, which is why after all the running and sloshing, the heart of the party should be the book. You give them that impossible galaxy of childhood. And that’s something they’ll keep—forever. By sparking imagination with Carroll’s words, you can help make sure that the sweet longings of childhood are never fully extinguished, and carry with them throughout their long and lovely lives. Lewis Carroll says it best, as Alice’s sister reflects on the dream her younger sister told her:

“Lastly, she pictured to herself how this same little sister of hers would, in after-time, be herself a grown woman; and how she would keep, through all her riper years, the simple and loving heart of childhood; and how she would gather about her other little children, and make their eyes bright and eager with many a strange tale, perhaps even with the dream of Wonderland of long ago; and how she would feel with all their simple sorrows, and find a pleasure in all their simple joys, remembering her own child-life, and the happy summer days.”

Don’t forget your Alice-themed bookmarks or our Wonderland Gift Guide! How are you celebrating Read Across America Day? What’s your favorite book? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our Lewis Carroll gift guide.

Never Grow Up: A Peter Pan Inspired Read Across America Day Book Club Pajama Party

Never Grow Up: A Peter Pan Inspired Read Across America Day Book Club Pajama Party

“Think of the happiest things; it’s the same as having wings,” sings the television.

never, ever grow up
Never, ever grow up | Image courtesy Etsy seller PraisePrints

I’m five years old, watching my absolute favorite movie, Peter Pan. From the first time I saw Pan loop up into the sky, I wanted to be the one to fly with him to Neverland, stopping at Big Ben on the way before soaring into the stars straight on ‘til morning. It almost seemed possible; all I needed was some fairy dust. Unfortunately for my mom, I had a pretty good feeling that if I just threw a handful of glitter on my head, I’d be floating through the air on my way to fight Captain Hook. I also developed a passion for leaping off of furniture, earning more than a few bruises, glitter falling from my hair in my attempts to fly off into the sunset.

I was so obsessed with Peter Pan that I even thought I saw him once, silhouetted in the moonlight streaming through my bedroom curtains—I was convinced he had been listening in on my mom telling me bedtime stories. So, when I grew older, my Nana gave me a little book containing two of J.M. Barrie’s works: Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Peter and Wendy. She knew how much I loved the movie, and correctly guessed that I would love the slightly stranger, darker world of the books as well. I still have my well-worn copy perched on my bedside table.

When my book club chose Peter and Wendy for National Read Across America Day, I immediately volunteered to host the event at my place. Peter and Wendy is a book about kids, yes, but it’s really a book for adults—you have to be a grown up to understand why childhood is so precious and fleeting, and even a little dark. The book has become so much more to me now that I’m older, transforming from an adventure story into a wistful love poem to youth and imagination. I was determined to throw a party with the same introspection and whimsy as the book.

DIY Wendy-Inspired Pajamas

Imagine going on a trip to an exotic land, only to be stuck in your nightgown the whole time. One of the most charming things about Wendy, John, and Michael’s adventures in Neverland is that Peter comes to them at night, so they go off fighting pirates and running through the forest with the Lost Boys in their pajamas.

edwardian nightgown
Vintage Edwardian nightgown | Image courtesy Etsy seller denisebrain

In keeping with the books, I threw a grown-up pajama party. I thought it would be a great icebreaker. Sometimes people feel uncomfortable voicing their opinions in a group, but in a room full of adults in their pajamas, it somehow seems less intimidating.

I found a long white nightgown at a thrift store that I knew I could easily DIY to give it an Edwardian look—floor length, with feminine embellishments like ruffles, ribbons, and lace. It’s definitely a more formal look than my usual nighttime get-up of sweatpants and a tank top. To add DIY Edwardian embellishments to your nightgown you’ll need:

  • White, pink, or pale blue ribbon
  • Lace trim
  • Fabric glue
  • A plain, long nightgown

Decorated Dressing Gown Instructions:

  1. Wash and dry the nightgown thoroughly.
  2. Measure the circumference of the openings at the neck of the gown and both sleeves, then cut a length of lace long enough to trim each one. Take the length of lace for the collar and, along its flat (not scalloped) edge, add a thin line of adhesive. Wait for it to dry for a few seconds until tacky, then press the adhesive along the fabric of the collar. Use pins or crafting clips to keep the lace in place while it dries. Repeat with the openings of both arms.
  3. Using the ribbon, make a small bow. Add a dot of glue to the back of the bow and glue it to the center of the collar of your gown.
  4. Let the glue dry.

Your once-plain nightgown now has a lace collar and trimmed sleeves, along with a pretty bow. Adorned with ribbon and lace, it’s hard not to imagine yourself waiting for Peter to come to the windowsill of the nursery in your Edwardian mansion.

Designing Your Own Neverland

fairy lights
Fairy light to set the mood | Image courtesy Etsy seller Gretchenswhimsicals

As girls, my sister and I would concoct elaborate forts out of bed sheets and pillows, giggling the night away reading our favorite chapter books to the glow of a flashlight. To recreate the same cozy, playful environment for my guests, I laid out every throw blanket I have, fluffed the couch cushions, and took all of the pillows off my bed and brought them into the living room, making it feel more like a childhood playroom than a space for watching the news.

Finally, I put up some mini strings of lights, every twinkle reminding me of Tinker Bell and the fairies of Neverland. There are quite a few ways to use fairy lights to add some magic to the atmosphere:

  • Hang them on the wall, twisting them into the shape of the Big Dipper and other constellations. Add two big glow-in-the-dark stars among the lights to help your guests find their way to Neverland—hint: it’s the “second star to the right, and straight on ‘til morning!”
  • If you have a large house plant, add a string of lights to it, reminiscent of the fairies sitting in the leaves of the Lost Boys’ treehouse.
  • To add an ambient glow to the room, put battery-operated LED lights into big mason jars and place them in any shadowy corners of the room. You don’t want Peter Pan’s shadow to lurk around, causing mischief!
  • String some lights up, crisscrossing the ceiling, to look like fairies flitting around the room.

A Proper British Tea for Michael, John, and Wendy

floral teapot
A floral teapot | Image courtesy Etsy seller lofficina

When I was a kid, nothing made me more proud than the fact that I knew how to brew my Dad his perfect cup of tea. For this gathering, I opted to brew a loose leaf Earl Grey. The instructions are simple:

  1. After your guests arrive, bring a kettle of water to a boil.
  2. F a good pot of tea, add one teaspoon of tea leaves per person, plus one extra, to the pot. My large teapot makes about six cups of tea, so I added seven.
  3.  When the kettle’s ready, take it off the heat and let it sit for about 10 seconds. Then, pour the water directly over the tea ball in the pot. Cover, let the tea steep for 3-5 minutes.
  4. Serve, giving your guests the option to add milk and sugar.

Peter Pan may have occasionally forgotten to feed the Darling children and Lost Boys anything but imaginary food, but I knew my guests’ adult imaginations weren’t strong enough to let them subsist on tea alone. I made a selection of finger sandwiches, and these vegan Earl Grey cookies for dessert:

earl grey tea cookies
Earl Grey cookies | Image courtesy Etsy seller PamplemousseSucre

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp cornstarch
  • 1 tbsp Earl Grey tea leaves
  • Scant 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/8 tsp salt
  • 1 cup chilled vegan butter
  • Raw sugar

Baking Instructions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In the bowl of a food processor, add the flour, cornstarch, salt, tea leaves, and sugar, pulsing to combine.
  3. Cut the vegan butter into small cubes, then scatter across the dry ingredients in the food processor. Pulse several times until the mixture just holds together when pressed.
  4. Line an 8×8 inch square pan with parchment paper, allowing some parchment to hang over the sides.
  5. Remove dough from the food processor, then press into the pan.
  6. Dust with the raw sugar.
  7. Bake for 45 minutes, until lightly golden.
  8. Let cool 5 minutes, then lift the dough out of the pan using the parchment paper. Cut into squares or rectangles with a sharp knife.
  9. Let cool completely, then serve.

The Earl Grey-infused cookies were the perfect pairing with our tea as we discussed the adventures going on in Neverland, all the while tucked under cozy blankets and propped up by squishy pillows.

(Book)Marking Our Adventure

As official members of “Nana’s Book Club,” my sister, cousin, and I each receive books and bookmarks from my Nana in the mail on a regular basis. She even has her own custom bookplates that she sticks to the inside cover of each book, so even if we give a book to a friend when we’re done reading it, the world knows that Nana picked it!

The one thing I always keep for myself is the bookmark—each one reminds me of a specific novel I read, and what was going on in my life when it was sent to me. They’re something I treasure. I wanted my guests to have a party favor as a memory, and I thought making our own bookmarks, then swapping them, would be a fun way to do that.

disney character ribbon
Peter Pan character ribbon | Image courtesy Etsy seller HappinessByTheYard

To make bookmarks, you’ll need:

  • Cardstock cut into bookmarks (use a bookmark you already own as a template)
  • Glue sticks
  • Sequins
  • Glitter
  • Crafting feathers
  • Scrap fabric, like leather, velvet, mesh, etc.
  • Scissors
  • Crayons and markers
  • Stickers and scrapbooking embellishments
  • A variety of scrapbooking paper

Everyone was asked to make a bookmark that represented some part of the book, be it a favorite character, like Captain Hook, or a favorite scene, like when the Darlings meet the sassy mermaids that hate everyone but Peter. There was a Tinkerbell bookmark someone cut into a curvy shape to look like the fairy from the cartoon movie, and a crocodile one covered in a reptile-print scrapbook paper with a clock embellishment.

Once dry, we put the bookmarks in an opaque vase, taking turns selecting one to bring home with us. The green and turquoise sequined mermaid bookmark I picked will always remind me of this special night.

After my pajama-clad guests disappeared into the night like Peter on his way back to Neverland, I sat in my living room with the leftover cookies and started to laugh. Did I really convince a bunch of grown-ups to come to a literary discussion while dressed in their PJs like little kids?  

Peter Pan was the boy who never grew up, but on this night my friends and I were the ones who felt like kids again. The next time I use my bookmark, I won’t just be remembering the party I threw. I’ll remember the childhood stories we shared, the jokes we told, and how lucky I felt that night to be surrounded by my own little band of lost boys and girls.

If you want to bring a little bookish magic to someone’s life, check out our E.M. Barrie Gift Guide! You can also print out free Elfster bookmarks for your next book club meeting. In the meantime, stay tuned with all things Elfster on Facebook, and check us out on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

A Wondrously Wordy “Good Morning, Dr. Seuss” Read Across America Gift Exchange

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go!” – Dr. Seuss

move mountains sign
Kid, You’ll Move Mountains quote | Image courtesy Etsy seller Inspire4you

As a toddler, my mom would drop me at my grandma’s house early in the day before she went to work. I’d spend those mornings with my nose buried in Green Eggs and Ham, Fox in Socks, and The Cat in the Hat, sipping hot chocolate while cozied up on the couch. I would sit, enthralled, still in my pajamas, while the San Diego sun streamed in through the open windows.

This was how my boundless appreciation for the wise words of Dr. Seuss began to take root as he set my imagination free to run rampant, encouraging and nurturing thoughts of kindness, openness, and creativity.

As I got older, I was gifted Oh the Places You’ll Go for my high school graduation, bringing it along as I ventured to San Francisco for college, daring to dream and take chances with my writing and career. Today, magical whimsy still accompanies the words of Dr. Seuss as I read them aloud to my niece and nephew, his cartoon drawings and the loops of his letters leaping off the page and into the big openness of their eyes and hearts. There’s a wonder, an inspiration, a timeless feeling about Seuss that has the ability to affect and inspire us all.

So, what better way to celebrate the brilliant brains of Seuss than in that same poignant way I did as a child—in my pajamas, sipping hot chocolate at a cozy morning reading get together for adults and kids alike.

An Imaginative Hot Chocolate Bar

It’s a strong belief instilled from my childhood that Dr. Seuss should always be accompanied by hot chocolate; the comfort of a good book and a warm mug will forever, quite literally, go hand in hand. Creating a wacky and wonderful blue and red-themed hot chocolate bar, inspired by Thing 1 and Thing 2 from The Cat in the Hat, is a very Seussian way to kick off our party!

seussian straws
Straws even Seuss would love | Image courtesy Target

What You’ll Need:

  • Whole milk
  • Cocoa powder
  • Milk chocolate chips
  • White chocolate chips
  • Marshmallows
  • Whipped cream
  • Crushed peppermints
  • Blue and red sprinkles
  • Blue and red straws
  • A slow cooker
  • Clear mason jars
  • An assortment of mugs (the wackier, the better)

How to Set It Up:

  1. The day before the party, prep your table. To use The Cat in the Hat as your theme, include lots of blues and reds. Use a red tablecloth, then layer with a blue runner. Fill mason jars with blue and red striped or polka dotted straws. Then, set out your mugs, seeing if you can safely stack them in some wacky way to evoke the hazardous way Thing 1 and Thing 2 would carry household items about.
  2. The morning of the party, make your hot chocolate in a slow cooker. For a party of 8, mix 1 1/2 cups of chocolate chips with 1/4 cup cocoa powder, 1/2 cup of sugar and 7 cups of whole milk. Combine in the slow cooker and stir, keeping on low for 2 hours until you’re ready to serve.
  3. While you wait for the hot chocolate, put out your marshmallows, milk chocolate and white chocolate chips, whipped cream, crushed peppermints (or candy canes), and sprinkles. For an added Seuss-like touch, use red and white baker’s twine to attach labels onto clear mason jars.

In the Words of Dr. Seuss

“Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So get on your way!” The words of Dr. Seuss bring forth lessons on love, learning, and life with wit and wisdom for both kids and adults. Sharing my personal favorite quotes with guests makes me feel like I’m doing my part to encourage a love of reading and the written word. Plus, there seems to be something therapeutic about writing the words of Seuss out as an adult, important little reminders of the past that I can apply to my present.

seuss quote
Oh the Places You’ll Go | Image courtesy Etsy seller palaceandjames

Adorning your space with DIY Dr. Seuss quote decor is also a simple, but clever way to carry your party theme into your home. I like the modern look of plain white cardstock with blocky black ink letters, which is difficult to achieve with my left-handed chicken scratch. So I always turn to simple alphabet stencils for a little guidance.

I like to hang the quotes around the reading nook (which I’ll tell you about below) and above the hot chocolate bar. I even hang some in the bathroom for fun; the Seuss quote, “Only brush the teeth you want to keep,” comes to mind. As Seuss alludes to, the day of the party is your day, indeed, and the mountain that is waiting is the decor. So, it’s time to get on your way!

Bring out your old Seuss books and get searching for favorite quotes. Be sure to enlist your little ones for help. Here are a few of my go-tos:

  • “I’m telling you this ‘cause you’re one of my friends. My alphabet starts where your alphabet ends!”
  • “You’ll be on your way up! You’ll be seeing great sights! You’ll join the high fliers who soar to high heights.”
  • “You’ll miss the best things if you keep your eyes shut.”
  • “It’s opener there in the wide open air.”
  • “So, open your mouth, lad! For every voice counts!”
  • “You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

Then, when your party has run it’s wild and wacky course, surprise your guests by letting them pick a quote or two to take home as a party favor!

A Seuss-pirational Book Exchange

Dr. Seuss Collection
A Seussian book collection | Image courtesy Amazon

Using an online gift exchange website to organize it, ask your guests to bring their favorite Dr. Seuss book for a wordy gift exchange. The idea is a simple one: give a book, take a book, and most importantly—read a book! Theodor Seuss Geisel, best known as Dr. Seuss, published over 60 stories in his career, so encourage your guests to dig a little deeper than the most well-known classics to add something new to the collections of fellow guests.

Here are a few of my Dr. Seuss favorites:

  • Scrambled Eggs Super!
  • Oh the Thinks You Can Think
  • There’s a Wocket in My Pocket
  • Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose
  • Oh Beyond Zebra
  • Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?

A Reading Nook to Cozy up In

With a house full of books, you’ll need a cozy nook for your guests to relax in while they explore the wondrous world of Dr. Seuss.

a wondrous reading nook
A whimsical reading nook canopy | Image courtesy Amazon

First, pick a corner to transform into a dreamy word wonderland. You can use a twin sized mattress covered in a fun fitted sheet, an assortment of over-sized pillows, and even a kids’ tent or two. Drape a canopy from the top of the ceiling to create a whimsical effect or string up a curtain between walls. Hang a twinkly string of bulbs as your reading light and spell out READ with wooden letters painted in Seussian colors, which you can find at any craft store. Then just add the Seuss classics and let the imaginations of your guests take flight.

While you decorate, if you feel like your imagination gets stuck, just pull out a Seuss book to get your creative juices flowing. As Seuss himself says, “Oh, the thinks you can think up if you only try!”

For kids, the words of Dr. Seuss create memories. For adults, they bring back visions of childhood, and the importance of what it means to approach life with a little bit of humor, a little bit of wit, and a whole lot of wonder.

Throwing a Good Morning, Dr. Seuss party, complete with hot cocoa bar and reading nook, DIY quote decor, and a book exchange, will add some whimsy to your world and the world of your guests. It brings back the idea that there is, perhaps, no greater and timeless gift than the gift of a book. For in that book, new worlds can be explored, doors opened, and unexpected thoughts can be thought! Just remember,“You’re never too old, too wacky, too wild, to pick up a book and read to a child.”

Happy reading!

Elfster encourages you to think imaginative, wandering, and wonderful Seuss-like thoughts when giving gifts. Explore our Seuss-inspired gift guide, download our Seussian bookmarks or connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more tidbits of inspiration.

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

Bring Your Brogue: Charmed St. Patrick’s Day Party Ideas Inspired by The Quiet Man

the Quiet Man
The Quiet Man | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

There’s an Irish pub near my home that I frequent quite often. It was my dad’s favorite place, and we were often the only people there born this side of the Atlantic. Warm and homey, it was thick with brogues and resplendent with laughter. I once took my soon-to-be-in-laws there and a friend of mine introduced himself to them saying, “Many a times have I celebrated St. Patrick’s Day in this very pub with Brian. And, a few of those times, it was even St. Patrick’s Day!”

St. Patrick’s Day has always been incredibly important to me. I’ve attended, and thrown, more Patty’s Day parties than I can count. But after a while, you begin to realize they’re all pretty much the same thing: shamrocks on the wall, maybe a green drink or two, and Irish classics on the radio. The holiday doesn’t seem to have much variety. But that doesn’t have to be the case.

Last year, I decided to throw a party themed after one of my favorite movies, The Quiet Man. It’s a classic film starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara set in a small town in the countryside of Ireland. It’s wildly funny, sentimental, moving, and a great love letter to the Emerald Isle from director John Ford. Hosting a themed party challenged me in terms of decorations and events—and challenged my guests to come costumed. But it was worth it.

It turned out that throwing a party inspired by The Quiet Man was the loudest party of all. 

Transforming Your Home into Innisfree

To briefly sum up the movie, John Wayne plays an American boxer named Sean Thornton who decides to move back to his home country of Ireland where he was born before moving to Pittsburgh as a baby. Growing up among the “steel slag hills,” he was told of the greenery and beauty of his native town of Innisfree. So he moves there, soon falling in love with the fiery Mary-Kate Danaher—but the marriage is forbidden by her brother. Romance, drama, and comedy ensue. It’s all incredibly Irish, with outstanding dialogue and a comic master performance by Barry Fitzgerald. It’s a truly great film.

shamrock pallets
Painted pallet shamrocks | Image courtesy Etsy seller R2KPallets

To throw a party inspired by it, you first have to recreate the mood and feeling of a small Irish town before modernity took hold. Start with the feeling of the pub where, unsurprisingly, a lot of the action happens. Order personalized bar signs with your name, or perhaps the name of the main pub in Innisfree, Cohen’s. You can also put up an Irish flag, although Ireland wasn’t technically independent when the movie takes place.

But it doesn’t stop there. To give your home the feel of old Innisfree, consider making it more, well, rustic. John Wayne’s character lives in a thatched cottage; he redid the roof himself. So I bought some thatch that may have been meant for a tiki party, but, if you put it up on the ceiling, it creates a cozy, woody feeling (rather than a hot and tropical one). Your guests will feel like they’re beneath an Irish cottage’s thatched roof, freshly pulled from the fields and dried.

Finally, I blew up pictures of the lusciously green Irish countryside taken on trips, and put them in windowpane-style picture frames so that it seemed like you were looking out the windows into a still, misty emerald afternoon, even in the loud raucous of my basement.

Tweeds and Wools in Greens and Browns

tweed accessories
Tweedy accessories | Image courtesy Etsy seller CELTICFUSIONDESIGN

So you have your home the way you want it, but what about you and your guests? While I never require costumes at my parties (because I’d rather people came), I don’t mind throwing ones where costumes are encouraged. And this one is fun, and pretty easy.

For the Women

Maureen O’Hara has quite a few iconic looks in the movie, including a frilly green dress with a bonnet (ideal for a rain-soaked romp in an old cemetery), blue top and white skirt for the climactic “chase” scene, and of course the jacket and knit cap she wears when first she meets Sean Thornton.

Now, of course, you don’t have to emulate her look entirely. Any knit cap will do. You want tweedy and earthy, vibrant colors that aren’t too rich, but look like the countryside. This isn’t fancy dress. It’s homey and homemade, passed down through the years, and brought out when an American gentleman comes courting.

But remember: Mary Kate Danaher is no passive wallflower. Make sure the clothes can contain a proud temper.

For the Men

A lot of the characters in the film wear suits, but that isn’t as much fun as the wooly Irish cap, the biggest necessity for your outfit. Just pair it with a sturdy button-up shirt and pants that can be worn in the field, church, or pub. If you have the hat, nearly any look—suit, suspenders, overcoat—is automatically reminiscent of the Emerald Isle. Of course, there’s also always a kilt.

Music for an Irish Jig

st. Patrick's Day Party Ideas
Honorary Irish | Image courtesy Etsy seller MossandTwigPrints

There’s a saying by G.K. Chesterton:

“The great Gaels of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad.”

He’s wrong about all the songs being sad, but he does capture how music is an intrinsic part of Irish culture, and how you’ll be needing some for your party.

There are the traditional rousing pub songs (“Whiskey You’re the Devil”, “Whiskey in the Jar”), the sad songs (“Danny Boy”, “The Ferryman”), and the patriotic songs (“Up the Rebels”, “The Rising of the Moon”).

Maybe my favorite sad/rousing/patriotic song is “Wild Colonial Boy,” which is also sung by the characters in Quiet Man. And don’t forget, of course, The Quiet Man theme, which is melodic and rousing. You can go modern as well, with the quintessential sing-along song, ”The Wild Rover,” sung here by The Pogues.

plains of Ireland
Not actually the view from my basement | Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons

Music is incredibly important to help set the mood. You can imagine people gathering in a warm pub out of the misty night, coming in from their fields and out of their homes, gathering around a fire, clinking glasses, and singing the songs of that tragic and poetic and merry and absurd land.

It’s that land The Quiet Man celebrates. Every character has their private sorrows beneath their open cheer, and everyone, even the main villain, loves their country with a deep and encompassing passion.

So make merry. Recite your favorite lines from the movie. And know that while shamrocks don’t always bring luck, when you have your friends gathered in your own private Innisfree, you already have all the fortune this life can bring.

How are you celebrating St. Patrick’s Day? Do you have any movie-themed party plans? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

DIY Minecraft Party Ideas for an Interactive Gamer Boy’s Birthday Without Screens

diy minecraft party crafts
The Minecraft craze makes for explosive parties | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The surprise of creating a pickaxe, or mining your first ore. Figuring out how to light your first fire. Discovering the meat explosion that comes from a pig. Realizing how to swim—and learning never to dig straight down. These are my favorite memories of Minecraft when I started playing the beta version back in 2010.

Enderman didn’t exist back then, we didn’t have guidebooks on how to build everything, and we had to learn how to make our own torches all by ourselves. We built our own servers and played on safe mode because we died from the creepers every single night. Oh, how times have changed.

Since then, the game has become a toy, party, and tech phenomenon beyond my wildest dreams. When I was asked to help plan a Minecraft birthday party for the kids I babysit, I jumped at the chance. Together, we came up with party decor, treats, and activities to turn their home into a mini gamer boys’ paradise.

Creating the World of Minecraft in Your Living Room

Minecraft balloons
DIY Minecraft balloons | Image courtesy Etsy seller KTsCreations

9-year-olds become immersed in a video game world because of the details, so tap into this tendency with your party decor. You can spend a fortune on premade Minecraft decorations, but the homemade versions are even more impressive (and cheaper).

From hanging purple streamers in a doorway to mark the Nether Portal, to adding white electrical tape squares on your windows to imitate the look of glass blocks, it’s easy to discover the “perfect seed” at home.

Looking for an easy DIY that will help tie all your decorations together? I had a lot of fun crafting Minecraft-style balloons for my little friends to ooh and aah over. I picked up about 20 latex balloons in common Minecraft colors, including lots of green, from the party store and had them filled with helium. Using some of the acrylic paint I had leftover from our Valentine’s day craft party, I went to town with a foam brush painting creeper, ghost, and pig faces—along with a healthy sprinkling of red TNT balloons. Create any other mobs that strike your fancy and allow the paint to dry before tying them around the party space. The kids will have so much fun with the creeper-face balloons, it’s so worth your time!

Restoring Little Gamers’ Health (and Hunger)

Along with some basic party food classics like pizza, chips, and candies, you’ll want to add in some themed elements as well. Set the table with a grass-green tablecloth, black square plates, and splurge on some pixelated napkins to tie everything together.

Take care of those hit points by setting out red stone strawberries or lava punch. While the mini-Steves are working on their party craft, you can offer them a sweet snack that’s easy, inexpensive, delicious, and impressively on-theme. The birthday boy might have to take off his creeper mask, but these grass block-inspired Rice Krispie treats are worth at least 4 hearts.

mine craft party table
(Mine)crafting kids | Image courtesy flick’r user nottinghamgamecity

The Ingredients:

  • 3 Tbl butter
  • ⅔ cup chocolate nut spread
  • 10oz mini marshmallows
  • 5 cups Rice Krispies cereal
  • A square cookie cutter
  • Green frosting

The Recipe:

  1. Grease a 9×13” pan with baking spray.
  2. Melt the butter in a large pan and add in marshmallows, stirring until they have melted completely.
  3. Add in your chocolate nut spread (or leave out to allow for nut allergies—your blocks will just be cream colored instead of brown). Stir until well incorporated.
  4. Fold in 5 cups of Rice Krispies. This step is sticky and can be tough, but be sure to mix well!
  5. Plop your cereal mixture into the greased pan and top with a sheet of wax paper. Press on the paper to make the treats flat in an even layer.
  6. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  7. Remove your treats from the pan and use the cookie cutter to create perfect squares. If you have a smaller group of kiddos (or more batches of treats ready to go), you can double stack these squares to make more of a cube shape. Squish the touching edges together to make the treat look like one piece.
  8. Frost the top of each brick with bright green frosting, and your dirt and grass blocks are complete!

Interactive Activities to Bring Minecraft to Life for Your Littles

pin the tnt on the creeper
Pin the TNT on the Creeper | Image courtesy Etsy seller CraftySistersFinds

As exciting as digital gameplay can be, it’s really fun to bring the Minecraft world off the screen with interactive play. Within the world of Minecraft birthday party ideas, you have about a million options, from stenciling creeper faces onto green t-shirts for a take-home party favor to playing “Pin the TNT on the Creeper” with a handmade felt creeper face. You could even play minecraft bingo and give away a foam diamond sword as your grand prize or make creeper pinatas that the kids can whack at with a faux wood ax.

It’s up to you what direction you’d like to go, but when the kids have gotten some energy out, try this (Mine)craft to settle the energy back down. All you’ll need is a huge bucket of mixed color fuse beads (and maybe extra bags of green and black), a square peg board for each party guest, an iron, and some wax paper. Set up the crafting table with some printed pictures from the game and a mix of sample patterns to help out younger kids, then let them go crazy picking out beads and making their Minecraft designs.

When their Minecraft masterpiece is finished, have them bring the peg board over to the kitchen counter where you (the adult) will be ready with a hot, dry iron and wax paper. Place the entire pegboard on a kitchen towel and top with a sheet of wax paper, then iron over the paper for 10-20 seconds, using even pressure and circular motions. When the beads are fused, you can peel the paper away from the pegboard, taking all the beads with it. Hand the pegboard back to the partygoer and let them make another design while you wait for this one to cool for ten minutes or so. And make sure to write the initials of the artist on one side of the design in permanent marker so you don’t get everyone’s creepers mixed up!

minecraft beads
DIY fuse bead party favors | Image courtesy Etsy seller CreationsByMakana

Minecraft is the sandbox game of the future, and has been popular among boys, girls, and adults alike. I’m happy to support screen time with kids when it involves creativity, problem solving, and an immense level of discovery at every turn—which is exactly what Minecraft does. But, it can be even more fun to get away from the screen for an afternoon of interactive birthday party fun.

If your child is as obsessed with Minecraft as my young friends are, they’ll go crazy for a party themed around the most addictive video game since Tetris. Welcome to the future of gaming—and a really awesome birthday party.

Looking for gift ideas for the birthday boy now that the party is all planned? The elves have made a handy gift guide that’ll be perfect for any little gamer. Be sure to share your Minecraft party success with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram. We can’t wait to see your (Mine)craftiness!

Verdant Spring Equinox Party Ideas: From City Apartment to Lush Urban Paradise

Verdant Spring Equinox Party Ideas: From City Apartment to Lush Urban Paradise

felted plant brooch pins
Floral brooches as party attire | Image courtesy Etsy seller AmiraliFelt

I grew up surrounded by nature. Summer meant walking through the oak forests on the island where I lived, following a path to the ocean. Fall was a riot of orange, red, and yellow leaves, the crisp New England air reminding me that winter was coming. And nothing was better than looking for deer prints in the snow each winter, following their tracks in hopes of catching sight of the elegant creatures.

But no season was more charming than spring, with new life rising up from the unlikeliest of places, like green moss growing under rocks, ferns unfurling on the side of the road, and tiny violets blooming—even when there was still frost on the ground.

Now that I live in the city, it’s harder to feel so in touch with the seasons. But, determined not to miss out on the glory of spring, I decided to host a party in my small city apartment this year that would bring the spirit of the great outdoors in, if only for one night.

Setting a Green Scene

floral prints
Flora and fauna | Image courtesy Etsy seller STANLEYprintHOUSE

My apartment overlooks not one, not two, but three urban parking lots. Jealous yet? I couldn’t rely on the view to clue my party guests in on the spring theme so, instead, I decided to do an easy DIY project to spruce up my space.

I headed to my favorite thrift store and hunted down a few vintage reference and coffee table books with beautiful pictures of flowers, greenery, and landscapes. When I got home, I used an Exacto knife to cut out my favorite images. Using painters tape, I hung the gorgeous nature photography and illustrations throughout my apartment, clustering a few on the wall in my kitchen to make it look like a little garden, then added washi tape to frame them like pictures. Suddenly, my small apartment was teeming with flora and fauna, without doing any damage to the walls of my rental.

Sweet Spring Scents

Decor alone wasn’t enough. I wanted to bring the fresh newness of spring indoors, and what better way to accomplish that than through scent? After all, it’s considered the most potent of our senses, and closely tied to memories.

vintage glass jars
Vintage jars waiting to be filled with spring | Image courtesy Etsy seller thewhitepepper

Nothing beats the smell of rich soil, tree buds, and warm breezes, but a little simmering pot of herbs and aromatics can do the trick in a pinch.

An hour before my guests arrived, I added a sliced Meyer lemon, a sprig of rosemary, and a handful of roughly chopped parsley to a small pot of water on the stove. I brought the pot to a simmer, then let it lightly bubble on low heat, filling my apartment with an incredibly fresh scent.

I also blended a cup of baking soda, a handful of parsley, and the zest of one lemon in my food processor. I put the mixture in some pretty vintage bowls and jars I’ve collected over the years, placing them on tables and counters around the apartment. When I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, I felt like I was taking a walk through a green field on a warm day. The scene was finally set for my springtime soiree.

 

Treating Your Guests to Seasonal Treats

I love dreaming up recipes and refreshments to serve my party guests. I decided on an array of herb-infused foods for my party (think fresh Green Goddess dip with baby vegetables, homemade rosemary crackers, etc), but I wanted to do something a little extra special. I decided to liven things up by offering my guests two bubbly flavors of homemade soda. And ripe red strawberries, just coming into season, and soothing chamomile flowers, would make the perfect bases for homemade sodas.

dried chamomile flowers
Dried chamomile flowers delight guests | Image courtesy Etsy seller CoastandClearing

The Ingredients:

  • 1 pound of strawberries
  • 1 cup sugar
  • Fresh basil (optional)
  • Lemon zest (optional)

The Recipe:

  1. First, I hulled the strawberries, then added them to a pan with one cup of sugar and two cups of water.
  2. I brought the mixture to a boil, stirring until the sugar was dissolved, then took the pan off the heat.
  3. Once it was slightly cool, I blended the mixture, then strained the strawberry syrup into a small glass carafe.
  4. When guests arrived, they added the strawberry syrup to their glasses, topping the drink off with some cold sparkling water. My best friend had the genius idea to muddle some basil and a strip of lemon zest in her glass along with the syrup—it was ten times better than any soda I’ve ever had out of a bottle!

For the chamomile soda, I followed the same process, adding one cup of dried chamomile flowers (purchased in the bulk foods section of my local co-op) to the simple syrup mixture, leaving out the strawberries. Then, instead of blending the mixture, I let the chamomile flowers steep in the syrup for an hour before straining into a pretty glass bottle. It makes for a lovely, subtle drink.

 

Bringing the Outdoors In

After all that decorating and cooking, I wanted to make sure my guests had something fun to remember the party by. I love plants, but a lot of my friends don’t have any in their apartments, so I organized a botanical Yankee Swap game.

Each guest was asked to bring a small plant, costing less than $10, to the party. One of my friends thought outside the box and opted for a basil plant from the grocery store! They still have roots attached, so the plant can live on long after you’ve plucked a few leaves to garnish a plate of pasta.

little cactus plant
A friendly spring cactus | Image courtesy Etsy seller plumandpotato

When all of the guests arrived, it was a pleasant surprise to realize that these little plants in my small apartment made it come to life. We clustered them on the coffee table while we enjoyed our snacks and soda, and then the fun began!

I wrote down a number on as many pieces of paper as there were guests at the party (making sure to include one for myself since I was dying to get my hands on a small cactus), put them in a hat, and had each guest draw a number. Next year, I think we’ll organize it a bit better with help from an online gift exchange website.

The person with the lowest number got to select the first plant. Each player after got to either choose a plant someone had already selected, or one of the plants on the table. We were all surprised to see that the plant of the hour was the little basil. I guess the fact that it wasn’t just for show really made it a star.

Finally, the player who originally drew the number one got to do a final swap. And wouldn’t you know, she traded with me, taking the small pot of pansies I wound up with and giving me the adorable cactus I had my eyes on!

I’m so pleased with how my springtime party turned out. I felt like I had just spent an afternoon lounging in the garden. When everyone went home, and after the dishes were done, I looked around and took a deep breath. The air was fresh with the scent of herbs and citrus, flowers decorated the walls, and my new cactus buddy was resting proudly on the window sill. Spring was here, and I couldn’t have been happier.

Elfster has gifting picks that bring the outdoors in. Or, for more spring inspirations, join us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

Celebrate Greenery, Pantone’s 2017 Color of the Year, with a Return to Spring Dinner Party

spring field
You can never hold back spring, or its greenery | Image courtesy Stocksnap.io user Allef Vincius

My wife and I live in Chicago, near Lake Michigan. We walk to the shore often to appreciate its wild beauty, an untameable giant abutting one of man’s great cities. And while it is beautiful, the howling and biting wind that whips off it this time of year reminds us that we live in a very cold area. Once Christmas passes, our thoughts and hopes immediately begin to turn to spring.  

This year, our longing for a change of seasons came a little early, partly because it’s been a mild winter, which makes me think spring is just around the corner (spoiler: it isn’t!), but also because we learned that Pantone’s Color of the Year 2017 is Greenery.

Pantone produces the best color guides out there. If you want Sky Blue to look exactly like the sky, you go to Pantone. Fashion mavens and manufacturing professionals, packaging businesses and graphic artists all turn to them. And, this year, they’ve decided we could all use a little more Greenery, described as a “fresh and zesty yellow-green shade that evokes the first days of spring when nature’s greens revive, restore, and renew,” as well as “life-affirming.” Honestly, we agree.

That’s why we’ve already started planning a “Return to Spring” party. We’ll be hosting our soiree as soon as March goes out like a lamb, which could be early this year. A spring party can have many themes, with many ways to celebrate, but here are some ideas to make sure your renewal celebrations feel like something new, fresh, and dewy, with earth-bursting hope.

(optional musical accompaniment for this article)

Greenery Sets the Tone

floral spring wreath
Open your party with something pretty | Image courtesy Etsy seller Leopard

The cool thing about Greenery is that it works well with so many other colors. Pantone calls it a “transition color,” as it fits on a bunch of different spectrums, everything from Forest Floor to Moody Blooms to Calm It Down. When choosing colors for your party, you have a lot to work with, and it comes down to personal choice.

Myself, I kind of like calmer spring colors, something bright, but still a little subdued, with a hint of winter’s cold still trapped inside. I usually lean toward darker violets, purples, and reddish-pink for accents. It feels to me more transitory, less abrupt.

Of course, you may prefer brighter paisleys, more explosive reds and yellows, or the pastel colors of Easter. Anything you choose will be great, but you should try to pick a dominant theme. And this might depend on if your party is simply to celebrate the changing of the seasons, or if you’re tying it to a specific date or event.

A Spring Fling Theme

There are so many reasons to have a spring party. My favorite is “just because,” as in “a party just because we’ve made it through the teeth of another Midwest winter, and, also, I’m bored.” But in case you were looking for more themed ideas, here are a few good ones:

spring derby hat
A Kentucky Derby party demands great hats | Image courtesy Etsy seller IrinaSardarevaHats
  • Spring Equinox: The Spring Equinox is officially on March 20th in the Northern Hemisphere this year, which falls on a Monday. For those of you who can’t host a Monday party (read: most of us), it’s ok to have it on the preceding or following weekend. Set up a fake Stonehenge. Honor Dionysius with wine and bread. Or, have guests make pledges for the rest of the year, fresh with the gift of renewal. For some reason, a lot of people also try to balance eggs on the Equinox, although the symbolism there is unclear.
  • Cinco de Mayo: This Mexican holiday happens on the 5th of May, which this year is conveniently on a Friday. If you want to have a party along these lines, make sure you have a good margarita set, plenty of delicious Mexican dishes, and, most importantly, a sincere appreciation for a wonderful and vibrant culture. This year, make a pledge to honor what makes the diversity around us so wonderful, and something to be celebrated, instead of just borrowed.
  • The Kentucky Derby: “And they’re off!” My wife loves the Kentucky Derby, and it’s hard not to. The raw power of galloping horses, the thrill of competition, the age-old traditions, and, of course, the hats. People love getting dolled up in seersucker and fancy dresses with eye-catching headwear while enjoying fine finger foods and mint juleps. This year the Derby is on the 6th of May.

The Many Colors of Spring

mason jar bouquet
Feels like a farm afternoon | Image courtesy Etsy seller EmpatheticElephant

But, again, you don’t need a specific date to recognize the coming spring, you just need to recognize it. Which is why this year we’re going to plan for a few activities for our dinner party, including making flower arrangements. After all, Greenery evokes feelings of a bouquet just waiting to bloom. Why not make a real one?

You might remember that my wife and I love rustic farm-style everything, like our rustic farmhouse-inspired dinner party last fall. Over the years, we’ve collected a bunch of mason jars of different colors, sizes, and styles that we’ll pull out for our guests to use, as well as a supply of thin rope and twine, and flowers of all different colors. Then, we’ll just encourage guests to play with and explore creating their own spring arrangements. Some of the flowers we’ll be providing include:

  • Daffodils (with their bursts of yellow and white)
  • Anemone (whose pale blue seems bolder against the green)
  • Tulips of any color
  • Lily of the Valley (normally late spring, but blooms early with a mild winter)
  • Witch Hazel (yellow or red and blooms late winter to early spring if we have an earlier party)

Set a Spring Feast for Your Guests

Our Greenery-inspired party is planned, but we’re still debating on the meal. We’ve narrowed it down to:

spring green onions
Bringing green to your table | Image courtesy flick’r user Eugene Kim

Roast Chicken with Spring Onions and Fennel: This is one of my favorite dishes, and is surprisingly simple, with the spring onions providing a buoyant and crisp, but not overwhelming flavor. Ideally, you can get the spring onions and the fennel very fresh, like from a farmers’ market, when both are still bulbing.   

Or

Rabbit Confit: Rabbits are a sign of spring’s renewal, so why not enjoy their bounty. That’s my argument, anyway, and this recipe, which finishes with a brief taste of barbeque smoke, makes spring feel like the prelude to summer, rather than just the end of winter.

And that’s sort of what it’s all about. Spring, to me, is a state of mind. When I start reading about pitchers and catchers reporting to training in late February, I already feel the warmth of a baseball game, even if it is snowy outside. I start to get the feeling of the grade-schooler who stares at the clock, knowing that each moment brings her a little closer to running around a playground.

That’s what a spring party offers. It reminds me that underneath these wintering layers, my friends are still there, still with their same jokes and excitement for tomorrow. I know that the scratchy skeleton trees will bloom again, occluding our windows with their glorious greenery. I know it’s coming. Planning for a party lets the colorful spring butterflies flutter inside me.

What’s your favorite way to celebrate the coming of spring? Tell us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or on Instagram @Elfstergram. And, for inspired gifting ideas, browse our gift guides.

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

Crafty Homemade Gifts That Toddlers Can Make to Playfully Inspire the Joy of Giving

finger paints
With a little paint, kids make meaningful gifts | Image courtesy flick’r user Valentina Yachichurova

My little cousins, 2 and 4, are preschool crafting fiends. They come home with pages upon pages of pasted art, funky scribbles, and other staples of the toddlers’ craft repertoire. When I enter their kitchen, I’m met with a fridge door covered in construction paper, cotton balls, tinted macaroni, and what I can only imagine was a glitter bomb.

Last weekend, I was at their house on a mission to spend the afternoon crafting gifts that the little ones could give to their mom for her birthday. I was determined to create something surprising, unique, and useful that my aunt would genuinely appreciate—and that had absolutely no construction paper or school glue in sight.

Little Keith was so excited when I entered with my Mary Poppins-style bag of supplies that he immediately went to the pantry to grab the plastic “crafting table cloth” to spread out over the kitchen floor. Then we all sat down together and got to work.

Household Toys Make a Scarf Mom Will Actually Wear

As a two year old, little Keith is still working on his fine motor skills, and not making an incredible mess when using craft paint, so this DIY infinity scarf idea plays directly to his strengths.

diy handpainted scarf
Easily DIY an abstract infinity scarf | Image courtesy Etsy seller SewnCraftily

I came prepared with a 6×3 foot rectangle of lightweight jersey fabric that I picked up at the craft store around the corner and asked Keith to bring some car toys to our “studio.” While he was busy collecting his favorites, I taped the neutral-colored fabric flat on the covered floor using packing tape, and added “stripes” with the tape every four inches or so across its surface before filling some paper plates with a thin layer of paint. Keith rushed back with a couple of large plastic cars and some smaller metal racers, and we were soon rolling their wheels in the paint and making car tracks on the fabric.

I chose the paint colors carefully, in tones I knew my aunt loved to wear. If we were to make this craft again, I’d get even more creative with lego blocks and other toys to stamp shapes on the fabric too. When we liked the way our abstract design looked, we moved on to craft number two and let this one dry. I threw the toys into a sink full of warm, soapy water immediately after we finished and gave them a good wash with my hands to remove all the paint.

It’s best to leave your scarf to dry for a few hours so the fabric paint can completely harden. Then you can remove the tape and heat-set the paint using the instructions on the back of the bottle. Back home, I also sewed the short edges of the rectangle together to form the classic infinity scarf loop. You could also use fabric glue for this step if sewing isn’t your forte. The result is a gorgeous abstract infinity scarf that looks like something you paid for on etsy—not a fridge-cluttering toddler craft.

Air-Dry Clay Gets a Sophisticated Makeover

clay bowl
Air-dry clay makes excellent small dishes | Image courtesy Etsy seller TheFloweringMaple

It may be difficult to find a use for a clay handprint, no matter how adorable they are. But, with a little bit of experimentation, I’ve found a new way to revitalize the old medium of air-dry clay to make a ring dish that my aunt will really enjoy using.

Let the kids knead and play with the clay until it’s soft. Then, using a rolling pin to flatten it out to a somewhat even 5mm thick, use various stamps and other textured objects to let them imprint the clay with their favorite designs or patterns. Draw lines with the end of a toothpick, drive over the clay with a tractor toy, or use fingertips to create a polka dot pattern. This process is super forgiving, and you can easily try again if you don’t end up loving the results the first time.

When you’re happy with your patterns, place a small bowl upside down onto the clay and use a butter knife to cut around its edge, creating a circle. Let the kids help you press your clay circle gently into the bottom of the now right side up bowl and let dry overnight. In the morning, carefully lift your clay dish away from the bowl. If it’s still a bit wet on the bottom, turn your dish upside down on a drying rack for another few hours. Paint the edges of the bowl with gold nail polish or acrylic paint for a boho-chic vibe and your DIY ring dish is complete.

Personalized Towels Make the Kitchen a Little Brighter

Kids have been making their mark on dish towels for centuries. They’re inherently messy, and there’s no end to the dirty kitchen towels that a household can go through in a week. Any mom can use more clean towels! Hence, this craft idea was born:

handpainted towels
Hand-painted dish towels are surprisingly easy to DIY | Image courtesy Etsy seller LoftStudios

The Supplies:

  • Contact paper
  • Fabric paint in bright colors
  • Unsharpened round pencils
  • A pack of flour sack towels

The How-To:

  1. Get set up. Tape your towel flat onto your work surface in one layer, taking care as this paint will bleed through.
  2. Create your shapes. Trace seasonal outlines on the contact paper. Hearts are a great choice this time of year, as are flowers. If you don’t want to draw your own outlines, have the kids trace medium-sized cookie cutters onto the contact paper using a marker. Your outlines should be about 3” in diameter.
  3. Cut out the shapes. Then, position the sticky side of the contact paper on the towel’s surface wherever you’d like. For ours, we used two shapes apiece and positioned them near the bottom short edge so they would show when the towel was hung on the oven door.
  4. Paint away. Place each color of fabric paint in its own paper bowl or plate and use either end of the round pencil to stamp little dots of color around the edges of your contact paper shapes. Keep going until the dots spread out as far as you like, making sure the edges of the contact paper are covered.
  5. Let the paint dry. Then, remove your contact paper shapes to reveal the crisp white silhouette underneath! Heat set your towels the next day by throwing them in the dryer according to your paint bottle instructions and your colorful gifts will be ready for gifting!

The Art of Helping Kids Experience the Joy of Giving

kids painting
Involve your kids in the creative process | Image courtesy flick’r user Rain 0975

Crafting with kids can be alot fun. They’re actively discovering how the world works, and their entire bodies are engaged in the activity before them. I love spending time being creative with my little cousins because I know they’re learning a lot while having a memorably crafty afternoon. If you come prepared with the right structure in place, and a patient mindset, you’ll find that crafting with kids is way more than a mess—it’s creative inspiration.

Beyond just the joy of crafting, I loved watching Keith and Matthew give their handmade items to their mom at her birthday celebration. They were so proud of their creations, and couldn’t wait to see the smile on her face when she opened their gifts. Because they were directly involved with the process (and with keeping the secret—always the hardest part) they seemed much more excited about giving than I’ve ever seen. Handmade gifts, especially when crafted by little hands, can bring joy to the entire family.

If you’re looking for more ways to get your little ones involved in the gift giving process, why not let them help choose one of the gifts on our gift guides for the next holiday? The elves are hard at work to make gift giving meaningful for everyone. Like us on Facebook for more gift giving ideas, or follow us on Twitter @Elfster or Instagram @Elfstergram.

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

Goodbye Winter Blues: 5 Mood Boosting DIY Projects for a Weekend of Self-Care

self-care kit
Gift yourself with self care | Image courtesy Etsy seller LittleFlowerSoapCo

Last weekend, I had all of Saturday and Sunday to myself. My partner was traveling and I was, unusually, caught up with work for the week. I should have been thrilled with two largely empty days sprawling out before me. Instead, I felt anxious.

We moved a little over a year ago and, working from home, I still didn’t have much of a social circle in our new hometown. For an extrovert like me, that can make a weekend alone, well, pretty lonely.

I could try to distract myself with work and social media, but I knew that wouldn’t be fulfilling. I wanted to sink my teeth into my newfound weekend freedom. So I decided to ban work and technology and ease into a true pampering session for my mind, body, and soul. I had been pinning project inspirations and recipes for months now, and this weekend seemed like the perfect opportunity to roll up my sleeves and dive into some self-care DIY.

Bust Anxiety with an Essential Oil Rollerball

I’ve had bottles of essential oils sitting in my craft drawer for months. I use them in cleaning products and in a diffuser while we sleep, but I hadn’t tried them for mood regulation. After exploring online about the benefits of each oil, I created a soothing blend—something predominantly bright and cheerful, but with calming effects.

essential oils kit
Essential oils for custom anti-anxiety blends | Image courtesy Etsy seller ArOmis

I also wanted something I wouldn’t be embarrassed to smell like since I decided to use a glass rollerball applicator. Glass is a must when using essential oils, as they can make plastic leech. Use a pipette or funnel to add your oil blend to the bottle, then secure the rollerball top. Apply to the temples, neck, wrists, and any other pressure points on the body for anxiety relief. This ended up being my favorite uplifting blend:

  • 15 drops sweet orange oil
  • 15 drops ylang ylang oil
  • 10 drops sandalwood oil
  • Carrier oil (jojoba or sweet almond)

After you add the essential oil drops to your rollerball, fill the remainder with a carrier oil to dilute. I found this so effective that I’ve been using this blend in my oil diffuser in the evenings to help boost spirits after a long day, but feel free to customize your own combination of scents, and play with other calming and uplifting oils like lavender or bergamot.

Curb Chocolate Cravings with No Bake Chocolate Peanut Butter Bites

Did you know dark chocolate and oatmeal can actually help boost your mood? That’s just one reason I love this easy recipe. The other is that it’s a lot healthier than waffles and cookies. On Saturdays, I’ve been known to undo an entire week of healthy eating. To help me kick this habit, I like to create healthy snacks that satiate my sweet tooth without blowing my caloric intake. These no-bake bites are a staple around here!

hot cocoa
100% cocoa is a mood-boosting snack | Image courtesy Target.com

The Ingredients:

  • 2 cups old-fashioned oats (raw)
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 tbls 100% cocoa powder
  • ½ cup honey
  • ½ cup chocolate chips
  • ½ cup dried cherries
  • ½ cup toasted sesame seeds

The Recipe:

  1. Combine the first four ingredients until a thick dough forms.
  2. Fold in the remaining ingredients and refrigerate dough for fifteen minutes.
  3. Once chilled, use your hands to roll the dough into tablespoon sized balls.
  4. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a week, or in the freezer for even longer!

Create a Hygge Emergency Kit

Hygge is a hot trend right now, and it’s not difficult to understand why it’s getting so much hype. It’s a long-standing Danish tradition referring to the importance of creating and enjoying a warm and cozy atmosphere. We all live multifaceted lives and, while it might be nice, we can’t have a gigantic bed and an oversized velvet sofa and candles burning at all times. Instead, it’s suggested to create a hygge emergency kit for the particularly stressful days when you want to lift your spirits the Danish way.

hygge kit poster
The Danish know the importance of true comfort | Image courtesy Etsy seller HomeandGloryLtd

I’d wanted to put my own kit together for months, but it just kept getting pushed lower and lower on my to-do list, so my self-care weekend was the perfect opportunity.

Here’s what’s suggested for a traditional hygge kit:

  • An attractive basket for storing your goodies
  • A cozy blanket or slipper socks to evoke feelings of softness and warmth
  • A warm drink that’s easy to prepare
  • A book that can be read for just minutes at a time, or a book you’ve read before
  • An activity or hobby that’s easy and stress-relieving
  • Unscented candles with matches

It wasn’t difficult for me to create my own hygge kit—I already owned everything I needed. I just gathered up an old basket, chenille socks infused with argan oil, hot cocoa packets, the book 365 Days of Wonder, an adult coloring book, and some unscented pillar candles.

Now, I have my hygge basket ready for a spare half hour during the workday when I feel the need to hit the reset button. I keep it out, because the basket looks lovely, but also because it’s a great reminder for me to practice self-care.

Try Out Some Positivity Journaling

I have a master’s degree in counseling, so I’m well-aware of how wonderful journaling is for wellness. Does that mean I’m perfect and routine with it? Of course not! But, I’ve been meaning to set aside some time each weekend to journal and reflect. I never got around to it and I think I know why—it seems too abstract.

I needed some prompts to help me get started with my journaling goal and, luckily, the internet is full of them. It took a simple “positivity journaling prompts” search on Pinterest to find hundreds of mood-boosting, uplifting ideas to get me going. I had planned to write for fifteen minutes, but I emerged an hour later feeling lighter, more clear-headed, and inspired.

Pamper and Energize with a DIY Body Scrub

To me, after a day of DIYs and self-care, there’s nothing better than a wonderful show. After all, I had taken care of my tummy, mind, and spirit. Now it was time to refresh the body!

coffee body scrub
You’ll be tempted to eat this luscious scrub | Image courtesy Etsy seller HippeeCraft

In a mason jar, I combined the following ingredients, which are proven to be great for both the skin and the mind. Apply in the shower using a washcloth and circular motions to reveal smoother, more radiant skin—and a better mood.

The Ingredients:

  • ½ cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup finely ground coffee
  • ⅓ cup olive oil
  • ⅓ cup coconut oil, melted
  • 1 tsp chocolate, vanilla, or almond extract for fragrance (optional)

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, mixing thoroughly. Transfer to a mason jar and store in the shower, tightly sealed. The scrub is at its ideal consistency once the coconut oil has had a chance to solidify.

After my shower, I was glowing. Seriously. And I don’t think it was just the body scrub. Taking time to treat yourself on the weekends definitely has its benefits. I’m so glad I didn’t just fall down the Netflix black hole, but instead took time to invest in my own well-being.

Elfster encourages you to treat yourself with our thoughtful gift guides. Connect with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram for more self-care inspirations.

Be Our Guest! Bonjour to Imaginative Beauty and the Beast Disney Dinner Party Ideas

Be Our Guest! Bonjour to Imaginative Beauty and the Beast Disney Dinner Party Ideas

Be Our Guest sign
Welcome your guests in style | Image courtesy Etsy seller MOJAgraphics

When I heard the opening arpeggio of that familiar piano tune and saw the dark, wistful castle again for the first time in years while sitting in a silent movie theater, I got tears in my eyes. The sheer beauty of the French Baroque styling, the gorgeous costumes, and, of course, the talents of Emma Watson make Disney’s upcoming live-action retelling of Beauty and the Beast my “can’t miss” movie of the season. I’m so excited I’ve watched the trailer online about a hundred times. In a row.

I’m not the only one of my friends who still obsesses over each new Disney release, animated or not, even as an adult. So, I decided to throw a dinner party for my fellow Disneyholics to celebrate the newest film. I took memories from the Be Our Guest restaurant at Walt Disney World (which I’ve treasured in dreams since my sixth birthday), as well as inspiration from the original and new films, creating a soiree to rival any Disney celebration, fictional or not.

So, come along—we’ve got a lot to do!

Say “Bonjour” at the Door

The best part about dining at Disney is that your experience begins immediately. From the moment you enter the restaurant’s waiting area, you’re immersed in a whole new world. The Be Our Guest lobby welcomes you with life-sized suits of armor, baroque decor, and waitstaff who give a cheerful, “Bonjour!” To emulate this warm welcome in your own home, create a sign for your front door to greet guests as soon as they arrive.

craft supplies
A crafty way to welcome guests | Image courtesy Etsy seller UrbanOasisDecor

The Materials:

  • Blank chalkboard sign
  • Regular chalk
  • Chalk marker
  • Paintbrush

The How-To:

  1. Search online for a calligraphy print of “Be Our Guest” or “Bonjour” that you particularly love. Print out the image scaled to the size of your chalkboard using regular printer paper and black ink.
  2. Turn your image over and “color” the entire blank side with regular chalk in a thick layer, especially where you can see lettering. Tap the paper to shake off some of the excess then tape it, image side up, onto your chalkboard surface.
  3. Using your unopened chalk marker, trace the outline of the lettering by pressing hard with the marker’s end against the paper. This makes an imprint in chalk dust on your chalkboard. Don’t worry about smudging with your hands as you trace—this is easily fixed later.
  4. Remove your paper image to reveal the chalk dust imprint beneath. Trace and fill in the lettering directly on the chalkboard surface with your chalk marker.
  5. Use a paintbrush to lightly brush away any chalk dust smudges (or even use a Q-Tip dipped in water if you need to make detailed adjustments). The chalk marker is semi-permanent so won’t remove nearly as easily as the regular chalk dust.

You can get as crafty as you like here. Use hot glue to attach a red silk rose to your sign, or decorate with doodles of a chipped teacup and a hand mirror. You can hang your sign from bright gold ribbon, or lean it next to a warm, flickering lantern.

Your guests can be also be welcomed by their old friends Lumiere, Mrs. Potts, and the whole gang with a simple display. Arrange a candelabra, a china teapot, an old-timey feather duster, and a clock on your foyer table atop a rich-toned table runner to remind your guests of who, and what, met Belle when she first entered that enchanted castle.

Craft a Table Worthy of an Enchanted Castle

ornate gold mirror
A Belle-inspired centerpiece | Image courtesy Etsy seller SecretWindowMirrors

With a little bit of creativity, we can recreate some of the golden Baroque decor from the Beast’s ballroom in our own homes. You can design a stunning centerpiece with a little bit of DIY magic to set the stage for your culinary cabaret.

Using Belle’s hand mirror as inspiration, find a large, ornate mirror at a local thrift store and spray paint the frame gold. Once dry, center it on your table and arrange vintage-looking books and flickering candles on the mirror’s surface.

To create your own enchanted rose for the center, buy a bell jar, often found at dollar stores, and secure the stem end of a red silk rose upright on the base with a generous dollop of hot glue. Scatter spare petals around the stem to help mask your “enchantment.”

To further infuse your table with an elegant nod to classic icons of the film, pin silk roses to printed place cards for each table setting. If your dinner party guests enjoy floral fashion, you can go even further. Secure each rose to a hair pin or clip before sliding the card into place. Your guests will bring home a party favor they can wear long after the candles have died down.

The Disney Effect: Little Details Matter

DIY snow craft
Image courtesy flick’r user David Galbraith

If you’ve ever been to a Disney park, you know what it’s like to step into the world of yesterday, tomorrow—and fantasy. You’re surrounded by (nearly) hidden details that bring Disney to life right before your eyes. You can imbue your own party with sweet, memorable details as well.

If you want your guests to reminisce on the soup-slurping and cozy wintertime-reading-by-the-fire scenes, you’ll want them to see something that wasn’t there before. I’m talking about changing the weather for your dinner party, folks.

Create a gently falling snow effect by stringing cotton balls of different sizes on fishing line and hanging from the eve outside your dining room windows. Finish setting the perfect ambiance by also playing the score from Beauty and the Beast quietly in the background.

Send Guests Home with Fairy Tale Memories

Before your guests retire home to their own private West Wing bedrooms, have them sign a guestbook, titled “Be Our Guest,” of course.

enchanted rose print
An enchanted rose, the ultimate symbol of love from Beauty and the Beast | Image courtesy Etsy seller naturapicta

You can craft your own by laying open a vintage-looking scrapbook album and prompting your guests at the top of the page to let you know their favorite moment of the evening. Fill the remaining pages later with smiling memories of the evening (i.e. pictures), and your personal souvenir is complete. This will be a dinner party to remember, and it’s nice to have a lasting memento of the occasion to look back on.

Hosting dinner parties brings so much joy to your friends, especially when they’re themed around the (arguably) best Disney movie of all time. I consider hosting to be a gift I give my loved ones, wrapped up in beautiful memories, soundtrack singalongs, and happy laughter. It’s a chance for us all to get dressed up and pretend we really do live in Belle’s fairy tale world. That’s an experience that I’ll joyfully create again and again.

If you’re looking for more dinner party ideas to bring imagination to your social circle, check out what the elves have been up to over on Pinterest. We’re constantly dreaming up new ideas for party fun, so be sure to share your dinner party pics with us on our Facebook page, on Twitter @Elfster, or Instagram @Elfstergram.